Umpires hit back after corruption claims

Colombo: Umpires at the centre of bribery claims denied on Tuesday they were willing to fix matches for cash as cricket authorities announced an urgent probe into the allegations aired in a television sting.

An undercover investigation by the private India TV channel allegedly found six umpires, including one on the international circuit, were willing to give decisions or provide inside information on teams and playing conditions in return for illicit payments.

The accusations were broadcast only a day after the West Indies' victory over hosts Sri Lanka in the final of the World Twenty20 tournament, quickly souring the atmosphere after one of the game's premier events.

None of the umpires was involved in the tournament. The International Cricket Council called on India TV "to turn over any information which can assist the ICC's urgent investigations into this matter".

"The ICC reiterates its zero tolerance towards corruption whether alleged against players or officials," the organisation said in a statement.

Three of those named were from Sri Lanka, while two were from Pakistan. The sixth was Nadir Shah, one of two Bangladeshi members of the ICC's international panel which officiates in matches around the world.

Grainy footage appeared to show Shah, who has stood in 40 one-day internationals and a number of Twenty20 internationals, saying he was willing to give decisions on demand.

An India TV transcript of the sting said Shah allegedly offered to give biased LBW (leg before wicket), run-out and inside-edge verdicts.

"If the umpire is shown a favour, the umpire can do anything," Shah was quoted as saying in the transcript.

The video does not show any cash being exchanged nor did the channel broadcast any proof of the umpires delivering decisions or information. Shah said any suggestion he was open to bribery was "absolutely rubbish".

"If I am going to fix match, I will be caught some day by the ICC... no umpire fixes matches," he told the Press Trust of India news agency.

The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) pledged to investigate the claims."The BCB has a zero-tolerance policy to issues related to corruption in the game and is committed to holding a thorough inquiry," it said in a statement.

The Pakistan Cricket Board said it was gathering information and was in contact with the ICC. "We have zero tolerance towards corruption," said spokesman Nadeem Sarwar.

Pakistan umpire Nadeem Ghouri, another of those named, denied any involvement. "I am surprised at these baseless allegations," he told AFP, saying he would consult his lawyers.

Ghouri has umpired in Test matches and dozens of limited-over internationals, although he is no longer part of the ICC panel. Sri Lanka cricket authorities on Tuesday considered suspending their three local umpires, but delayed a final decision pending a report from the ICC, A.R.M. Aroos, chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket umpires' committee, told AFP.

"We have looked at the tapes. We have got written submissions from the umpires. The next step would be a suspension and a preliminary inquiry, but we decided to await a report from the ICC," Aroos said.

Gamini Dissanayake, one of three Sri Lankans to be named, told the Colombo-based Daily Mirror the allegation was a "fabrication".

"Obviously this is an attempt at mudslinging," he told the daily.

India TV chairman Rajat Sharma told AFP his channel would cooperate with the International Cricket Council in investigating the scandal.

"Of course we will give the entire unedited tape to anyone who is enquiring this," Sharma said. "We would cooperate with the ICC."

Three Pakistani cricketers were last year jailed in Britain after being found guilty of spot-fixing following a newspaper sting. Shah was among the umpires at the inaugural Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year, a local version of India's IPL Twenty20 tournament.

The competition was marred by corruption allegations and ended up with former Bangladeshi international Shariful Haque being indefinitely banned.

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